Dr. Karim Abdian, executive director of Ahwaz Human Rights Organization – AHRO
IRT – Among some 6000 UN registered disappearances, nearly 500 are in Iran. Among those there are at least about 28 Ahwazi cases, according to field investigation. Drowning in Karoon River and in the marshlands of Fallahieh and Abadan have been widely rep
Some of Dr. Shaheed’s reports don’t detail all violations targeting ethnic minorities in Iran, but he successfully provided overview situation in Iran: Dr. Abdian comments on Dr. Shaheed
According to former deputy minister of education, only 30% of Iranian pupils entering first grade speak Farsi as their mother tongue
In further comments on human rights situation in Iran, executive director of Ahwaz Human Rights Organization – AHRO, reveals that according to Mr. Hajbabaei, the former deputy minister of education, only 30% of Iranian pupils entering first grade speak Farsi as their mother tongue. Yet Farsi/Persian speakers and the followers of Shia Jafari, have been positioned in a great advantage and dominance visa-a-vis non-Persian nationalities – in multinational, multilingual and multicultural Iran.
Dr. Abdian remarks, there cannot be equal citizenship without equality in the use of, and practice of linguistics, cultural and equal human rights of all citizens, and protection of individual and collective rights. Future course of Iran will hinge upon realization of these rights. Abdian believes policies imposed by state, inevitably alienate constituencies from Iran.
IRT: Language is one of the main issues for all freedom fighting democratic groups in Iran, the government and state have not delivered anything in this area, what kind of coordination do you have with Kurds, Baloch and others for this very important issue?
Dr. Abdian: Yes, it is true – Iran the most diverse country in the Middle East – It is home to Arabs, Baloch, Kurds, Persians, Turks, Turkmen, Sunnis, Christians, Jews, Baha’is, Zoroastrians, Mandeni’s and others. These ethnic and religious groups comprise at least 50 to and by some estimates 2/3 of the society. Yet these groups have not been accorded equal citizenship – their language, ethnicity and/or their religion are not being officially acknowledged. Constitutionally, Persian language is the sole official language, and –Jafari Shia is the officially sanctioned religion - all others are ignored, oppressed, negated or at best marginalized.
According to Mr. Hajbabaei, the former deputy minister of education, only 30% of Iranian pupils entering first grade speak Farsi as their mother tongue. Yet Farsi/Persian speakers and the followers of Shia Jafari, have been positioned in a great advantage and dominance visa-a-vis non-Persian nationalities – in multinational, multilingual and multicultural Iran.
There cannot be equal citizenship without equality in the use of, and practice of linguistics, cultural and equal human rights of all citizens, and protection of individual and collective rights. Future course of Iran will hinge upon realization of these rights.
Banning of non-Persian languages corresponds to banning their literatures and cultures- inducing and creating unequal, degreed citizenship. Misrepresentation, devolution and denial of heritage of the Iranian Kurds, Arabs, Baloch, Turkmen and Azeris, at least half of the society, as a policy by the state, inevitably alienate these constituencies from the state.
I and other AHRO members have met several times with UNESCO in Paris and brought these cases to the UN attention. Also, members of Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), which represent all Iranian national groups, have met and submitted these linguistic discrimination cases to UNESCO. But, yes, you’re right, some argue that UN bureaucracy, which Iran is a part of, will not address these issues, unless there are other initiatives by non-Persian ethnic groups.
IRT: Disappearances in Baluchistan, Kurdistan and Ahwaz, you please tell us about this in Ahwaz?
DR. Abdian: Sure- abduction and forced disappearances, has been a tool of the Islamic Republic against its opposition. There have been many Ahwazis who were tortured during interrogation; killed, and their bodies hidden or dumped in the river or buried anonymously in ‘Lanat Abad”
I, on behalf of Ahwazi disappeared families, participated in the last UN session on this subject in March of 2015 in Bones Aires in Argentina.
The security forces in Ahwaz seldom notify families about the whereabouts of their disappeared loved ones, its refusal to allow families to bury their loved ones, and its refusal to provide the remains to family members, violate Iran’s obligation under international law, to protect people from forced disappearances.
Outside Ahwaz city, there is a large, government-owned burial yard called “Lanat Abad” or “the cursed land” that people are buried without names. It is widely believed, and it has been admitted by some members of the security forces – as victim families were told that the bodies of their loved ones were buried there.
Among some 6000 UN registered disappearances, nearly 500 are in Iran. Among those there are at least about 28 Ahwazi cases, according to field investigation. Drowning in Karoon River and in the marshlands of Fallahieh, Mashour and Abadan have been widely reported.
The latest case belongs to Mr. Youssef Silawi, 58 years old, disappeared on 8 November 2009, in a very mysterious circumstance. He was abducted near his home in -Ahwaz. He is the father of Mona and Sheyma Silawi, two AHRO human rights activists in Europe.
The family of Mr. Silawi has searched in vain all hospitals, police stations, prisons, intelligence services headquarters, and Iranian authorities in Al-Ahwaz province and in Tehran have declined to reveal his whereabouts or open an investigation to his “disappearance”.
Also, field reports indicate that six Ahwazi Arab political and human rights activists, who have been murdered this year, while being held in prisons run by the intelligence services in Shoush, Khalaffiya (Khalfabad), Ahwaz and Dezful.
IRT: How is cooperation among denied nationalities in Iran, to achieve their rights?
Dr. Abdian: In Iran, as in any multinational country, it should be the responsibility of all Iran’s constituent nationalities to decide with equal voice, the future of Iran and solve the chronic internal crisis, brought about by successive monarchist and clerical dictatorships. The future of Iran, could be guaranteed only through a voluntary association of all national groups constituting Iran; where they will have the opportunity to develop their respective cultures, languages, histories, economies and homelands, under an appropriate de-centralized and a federated system of governance that guarantees and respects the rights of peoples to self-determination.
It is along these lines that the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI) was formed in 2005. It is actually a watershed in the solidarity and cooperation between non-dominant and oppressed nationalities in Iran. CNFI is a coalition, composed of 17 regional political organizations, representing Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Baloch and Turkmen in Iran.
Use of the Internet and social media, resulted in further solidarity among non-Persian non-dominant ethnic and religious groups, for their common struggle against oppression around gender, ethnic, and religious and linguistic pluralism and diversity. This solidarity among oppressed Arabs, Baloch, Kurds, Turks and Turkmen, and building the social and political resistance movement, is actually the “Achilles-Hill” of the regime.
IRT: How do you see the role of UN rights bodies regarding the promotion and protection of human rights in Iran?
Dr. Abdian: Well, I think we should take the UN for what it is without hanging all the hopes on it. The UN is a gathering place for countries not nations or nationalities. Some of these countries are democratic and some are oppressive. They all have their own parochial interests accordingly, nations and peoples who live under the oppressive regimes are not allowed the rights of self-determination unless it serves the interests of this so called International community, which UN is a major part of it.
Having said that, I believe UN human Rights bodies, whether charter-based or treaty-based bodies - should be utilized to the maximum, to expose the oppressive nature of states such as Iran.
We in AHRO, with the help of other international NGOs and progressive member states, and other member-based NGOs such as Unrepresented Peoples and Nations Organization (UNPO), have successfully utilized Human Rights Council, Universal Periodic Reviews, and Special Procedure of the HRC under charter-based bodies. We also used the help of Committees Against Torture, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Committee on Enforced Disappearances under the treaty-based bodies, in both New York and in Geneva for the past 10-15 years, and will continue to do so, to expose Iranian regime atrocities against minorities in Iran.
We achieved good results, working with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and with other different human rights monitoring mechanisms in the United Nations system: UN Charter-based bodies, including the Human Rights Council, and bodies created under the international human rights treaties, made up of independent experts, mandated to monitor Iran’s compliance with its treaty obligations.
IRT: I like to repeat this question with your esteem, how do you see the role of SR Ahmed Shaheed?
Dr. Abdian: AHRO has supported the appointment of Dr. Shaheed since his appointment in 2011 as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran. And every year since then we have participated in Geneva for the extension of his mandate.
He is faced with a very difficult situation with Iran and its allies like Russia and China, and a range of smaller dictator supporters in the UN. They have tried to sabotage his work. But under the circumstances, I believe he has done a great job.
We met with him several times, and he seemed receptive to all the testimonies from Ahwazi witnesses that were the subject of human rights violations. Obviously it would have been much better, if he was allowed to visit Iran to see the situations first hand, but Iran does not allow that.
Some of his reports do not detail all violations of human rights among the ethnic minorities in the country. However, he has successfully provided an overview of the prevailing systematic human rights violations and the situation in Iran.
As you know, not only the Islamic Republic of Iran has refused him entry into the country, but it has also declared him to be an agent of both the CIA and Israel. Last year, Iranian intelligence and Iran lobby groups fabricated a report, to smear Dr. Shaheed, claiming that the Saudi government, through its embassy in Kuwait, had paid the UN envoy $1million to take an anti-Iran position. To me it shows how desperate Iran is to get rid of Dr. Shaheed.
IRT: How do you see rights to self-determination?
Dr. Abdian: In UN literature, right to self-determination is defined as the right of a particular group of people to freely determine and control their political, economic or socio-cultural destinies.
Article 2 of the UN Resolution 1514 of 1960 states that: “All peoples have the right to self-determination, by virtue of economic, social and cultural development”.
In all subsequent UN and regional organizations’ resolutions and literature, the word “Peoples” is repeated over and over as supposed receivers of self-determination.
In article 1 of UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and article 1, in UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of 1966, as well as in General Assemble (GA) resolution of 1970, and in Helsinki Final Act of 1975, and finally in the charter of Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), adopted in Paris 1994, refer to People entitled to self-determination - without defining who constitute people, with sometimes, vague or conflicting or even contradictory explanations and definitions.
Finally, in a report by UN experts during UN Conference in 1998 in Barcelona, on the “Implementation of Self-Determination as a contribution to conflict prevention”, offers two types of self-determination, Internal self-determination; and External self-determination.
Internal self-determination means the right to decide the identity and the form of the governing body by the whole population of a State and the right of a particular group within the State to participate in decision making at the State level, and the right to exercise cultural, linguistic, religious or (territorial) political autonomy within the boundaries of the existing state.
It says that, politically, internal self-determination can take the form of participatory democracy, federalism, confederation, local government, self-government within the existing state or any other arrangement that accord with the wishes of the people, but compatible with the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the existing state.
External or full self-determination described as the right to separate from the existing states of which the group concerned is a part of, and to set up a new independent state.
UNESCO International Meeting of Experts for the Elucidation of the study of the Concepts of Right of Peoples, in 1989, provided the following definition of people:
A group of individual human beings who enjoy some or all of the following common features:
A common historical traditionA racial or ethnic identityCultural homogeneityLinguistic unityReligious or ideological affinityTerritorial connectionCommon economic life.
Additionally, UNESCO refers to people as “certain number or a large number” and that the group as a whole must have the will to be identified as people or the consciousness of being a people.
Generally, it is states that consent of state to which a people belong, is needed for secession. For example, the Arbitration Commission of the Peace Conference on Yugoslavia, states that:“It is well established that, whatever the circumstance, the right to self- determination must not involve changes to existing frontiers at the time of independence except where the states concerned agree otherwise”Exception for full determination: Flagrant/Serious human rights violations
Exception to that rule is when peoples in non-colonial situations are entitled as of right to secession from the existing independent state, where they suffer flagrant/serious human rights violations including persistent oppression, annihilation/targeted killings, domination, discrimination, marginalization, and other grave injustices in the state to which they belong.
Otherwise UN Resolution 2625 clearly states that,Nothing in the foregoing paragraph shall be construed as authorizing or encouraging any action which – would dismantle or impair the internal integrity of severing and independent states conducting themselves in compliance with the principle of equal rights and [internal] self-determination of peoples.International legal jurists and experts have endorsed these positions.
An exception to the above rule, was independence of Bangladesh, where the UN International Commission of Jurists stated:“If one constituent peoples of a state is denied equal rights and discriminated against, it is submitted that their full right of self-determination will revive”.
There are conditions that allow for secession and external self-determination where "a people" is subject to alien subjugation, domination or exploitation; and possibly where "a people" is denied any meaningful exercise of its right to self-determination within the state of which it forms a partor, documents that regard secession as a right of last resort. Thus, if the state and its successive government have repeatedly and for a long period oppressed a people, violated the human rights and fundamental freedoms of its members, excluded its representatives from decisions, especially in matters affecting the well being and security of the people, suppressed their culture, religion, language and other attributes of the identity valued by the members.
Examples of secession by way of self-determination in non-classic colonial situation include: the separation of East Pakistan from West Pakistan in 1971 to form Bangladesh; the dissolution of the former Union Socialist Soviet Republic-USSR (Soviet Union) in 1991; the dissolution of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) in 1991; the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993; the separation of Eritrea from Ethiopia in 1993; Montenegro from Serbia in 2006, Kosovo from Serbia in 2008 and the latest is the secession of South Sudan from the Republic of Sudan in 2011.
As for the possibility of internal self-determination for non-dominant ethnic minorities and/or peoples and nations, many Iranians eschew such a concept, fearing that it would be the first step towards their country’s fragmentation. The Balkans wars are cited as an example of what would happen to Iran if its regional governments were given a measure of autonomy. There is also the fear that local autonomy would make Iran vulnerable to the kind of interference in its domestic affairs, seen during certain periods of Iranian history, notably by the British and Russians during the Qajar dynasty and the Second World War and the Iraqis in the 1980s.
The notion that Iran would Balkanize with the introduction of a federal democratic constitution is based on the supposition that Iran’s minorities are inherently disloyal. It is, in fact, a racist belief that ensures that the ambitions of regional-based ethnic minorities should be forever repressed to ensure the integrity of the Iranian state. This attitude is shared by significant sections of the Iranian opposition and the Islamic regime itself. Experience shows that equality needs to be accompanied by the devolution of power and a fair redistribution of wealth generated by the abundant resources in the traditional lands of all nationalities constituting Iran.
IRT: Anything you would like to add Dr. Abdian?
Dr. Abdian: No thanks, I think that is enough.
IRT very much appreciate your valuable time.
Interviewed by: Jamal Ekhtiar